MINNEAPOLIS - Things didn't start out great for Nicollet in Friday's 9-Man Championship game.
But the Raiders were used to that. In the two previous games leading up to the Prep Bowl, Nicollet trailed early, rallied late and eventually pulled ahead in the end for the win.
There would be no comeback this time. Stephen-Argyle set six Prep Bowl records and won its sixth championship in seven years with the 37-22 victory over the Raiders at the Metrodome.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Nicollet’s Jared Blackwell intercepts a pass during the Raiders’ loss to Stephen-Argyle during the championship game of the 9-man state tournament Friday at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
For more photos of this event, go to http://cu.nujournal.com
"Three straight weeks we ran into teams bigger than us, more powerful than us up front and two of the three weeks we got it done," Nicollet coach Tom Murphy said. "Everything that happened from the start of the playoffs on has created memory banks for these kids that they will have for the rest of their lives."
From the opening moments Nicollet couldn't do much and Stephen-Argyle couldn't do wrong.
After Nicollet lost eight yards on its opening drive, the Raiders punted and pinned the Storm at their own 9-yard line.
It took Stephen-Argyle just 13 plays to open the scoring as Evan Shindele scored on a 1-yard run.
The Raiders' defense looked like it would keep the Storm out of the endzone when at 3rd-and-goal from the one, the Storm were penalized on three straight plays that pushed them back to the 20-yard line. But on the next play, quarterback John Saranski hit Jamison St. Germain for a 19-yard pass down to the one. Shindele scored on the next play.
Nicollet went three and out on the next possession and again pinned Stephen-Argyle deep in its own territory. But it didn't matter, the Storm took the drive 88 yards in 11 plays and Schindele scored his second touchdown of the quarter from five yards out. The 2-point conversion failed and and Stephen-Argyle had a 12-0 lead.
Saranski picked off a Jordan Rudenick pass on the Raiders' next possession setting Stephen-Argyle up at the Nicollet 34-yard line.
Six plays later, St. Germain found the endzone on a 7-yard run. The conversion failed and Stephen-Argyle led 18-0.
"We knew there offense was tough coming in," Murphy said. "They would get the trap and the counter going and we didn't close it down enough. It's not that we didn't try its that they were that good."
The Nicollet offense finally found its footing on the Raiders first drive of the second quarter. Starting at their own 38, Rudenick hit Nick Mans for a long pass and the Raiders' first first down of the game.
Then Nicollet went to the bag of tricks. Rudenick handed off to Sean Murphy, who turned around and threw a 17-yard halfback pass to Jaime Fischer down to the Stephen-Argyle three.
Two plays later, Rudenick took it in and finally put the Raiders on the board to make the score 18-6.That's the way it went into the half.
The early deficit wasn't new to the Raiders and they knew what they had to do to get back in it.
"We just thought the same thing like every other game," Rudenick said. "We were like, 'guys, it's not like we haven't been here before. We've done it, we know how it feels.' So it wasn't really a shock for us, we know how it is to come from behind and take the lead. We just weren't able to do that today."
After all the scoring in the first half, the third quarter went by without either team putting any points on the board.
But the scoring continued in the fourth. On the Storm's first possession of the final period, they went 63 yards on 15 plays that culminated in Schindele's third touchdown of the game from four yards out. The conversion failed and Stephen-Argyle had a 24-6 advantage.
The Raiders wasted no time getting back in the endzone and they went the trickery route again to get it done.
On the Raiders' first play from scrimmage, Rudenick hit Mans for an 8-yard reception. Mans then pitched it to Sean Murphy who took it another 19 yards to the 50.
"We ran it out of a little bit different formation," Rudenick said of the hook and ladder play. "We thought we might as well take a shot and it worked."
On the next play, Rudenick threw a deep bomb to Fischer who scampered in untouched for the 50-yard score. Rudenick kept it himself for the 2-point conversion and Stephen-Argyle led 24-14.
"The quick strikes kept us in it," Rudenick added. "We were never going to give up, that's just the way we play football. We played four quarters of football every game this season, so we weren't going to stop playing four quarters now."
Not to be outdone, Stephen-Argyle showed it could use a little trickery as well.
Facing a 4th-and-three at the Nicollet 38, the Storm lined up in a punt formation but 5-foot-10-inch, 274 pound lineman Robbie Pietruszewski took the direct snap and ran it eight yards for the first down.
Three plays later, St. Germain scored his second touchdown of the game from 14 yards out to make it 30-14 with five minutes to play in the game.
The Storm weren't done scoring. Safranski intercepted Rudenick at the Stephen-Argyle 4-yard line. The Storm went 96 yards on nine plays and Safranski ended it with a 1-yard run to put the game away at 37-14 with 1:03 to play in the game.
But Nicollet had one scoring strike left in it. Kyle Hood returned the ensuing kick to the Stephen-Argyle 49. Rudenick then connected with Renne for a 34-yard pick up down to the 15. Two plays later, Rudenick ran it in from a yard out to make the final score 37-22.
"We had higher expectations than this," Rudenick said. "We played hard and that's all we could do. No one expected us to make it this far. We played as a team and did everything we had to do as a team to get here and we gave it our all."
It was a record-breaking day for Stephen-Argyle. The Storm set a state record for most rushing first downs in the game with 22 midway through the third quarter. The Storm easily broke the overall record of 30 in the fourth quarter and finished with 34. They also set a record for most rushing attempts with 88, most yards rushing in a game with 569 and they finished with a state record 616 total yards.
St. Germain led all rushers with 193 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns. Schindele rushed for 181 yards and three touchdowns. Ethan Hendricks had nine carries for 91 yards and Safranski had 85 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Nicollet rushed for just 15 yards on the day but it was through the air the Raiders made their impact. Rudenick was 12-for-24 for 244 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for two more touchdowns on the day.
Fischer caught five passes for 103 yards, Mans caught three for 65 and Renne had three for 60.
Defensively, Jared Blackwell had 18 tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception. Rudenick had 12 and Dusty Giefer added 10.
It was the third time Nicollet has been to the Prep Bowl. The Raiders also finished second in their two previous appearances in 1999 and 2002.
"We told them two weeks ago, what happens here doesn't define us," Murphy said. "We have been defined by who we are through the season, by how hard we worked and the things that we've done to get to this point.
"Would we like to be state champions? Sure we would. I can sit here and say, 'man I've lost three of them.' But do you know what? It's better than never have been to three of them."
When the season started, few people thought Nicollet had the makings of state title contender. The Raiders were coming off a 4-6 season and just two years ago, they won just two games. But Nicollet proved the doubters wrong.
"It's a good feeling and no one really expected this," Rudenick said. "We had goals set early in the year to win the section and have a .500 season. But once playoffs started to roll around we knew we had a shot. All of us seniors were like this is our chance to do it and we did the best we could."